Top 5 Most Cinematic M/M Romances

One of the great tragedies of the modern cinematic era, IMHO, is the fact that Brokeback Mountain was followed up by… absolutely nothing. There hasn’t been one mainstream film about a gay couple since, nor is there likely to be one in the near future. A few on the indie scene have managed to make something of a splash among critics and diehards—Love Is Strange, Mysterious Skin, and The Kids Are All Right come to mind—but nothing on par with the visibility and the success of Brokeback.

It’s not like Hollywood is lacking in source material, either. They could adapt Mary Renault, Christopher Isherwood, or Gore Vidal if they want some highbrow Oscar-bait. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if, hot on the heels of *that movie* and the supposed renaissance of sexy adult films (I’ll believe it when I see it), they looked to the M/M romance genre and the hundreds of authors whose works are both high-quality and highly filmable? Seriously, indie producers, what are you waiting for?

But, as a community, we don’t really have to wait for those producers anymore, do we? Surely there are enough M/M readers worldwide to fund a serious Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Enough readers with a background in film or television (like me) to shepherd the project to completion. Maybe one day my dream of having a production company that exclusively adapts M/M books will be a reality. In the meantime, a girl can dream… about which books she would tackle first, and who should star in those theoretical films.

Whether this is a pie-in-the-sky ambition, a dream that could be a reality with enough elbow grease, or a fun party game, I offer up for debate my (very subjective) list of the Five Most Cinematic M/M Books! After you’ve perused the list, hit up the comments with your suggestions, alternatives, or casting revisions!

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

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If that IndieKickGogoStarter campaign ever does see the light of day, one of the big issues is going to be which book to tackle first. Any producer worth their salt would do enough research to know that Josh Lanyon is probably the most read author in the genre, with an extensive backlist and several movie-ready series (because the name of the game is always sequels). The two obvious choices would be to start with the first Adrien English novel, Fatal Shadows, or, if they have more of a budget to work with, the Dangerous Ground series. Both would be excellent choices and would make great films.

But I would look to one of his more recent works, Stranger on the Shore. I mean, just look at what he did with the trailer! The book has everything great movies are made of: a compelling mystery, a Kennedy-esque family with dark secrets that suffered a major tragedy, a leading man with a personal connection to the family and the crime, a nosy reporter with secrets of his own, a gorgeous Hamptons backdrop. With its many allusions to The Great Gatsby, Stranger on the Shore positions itself as a modern-day twist on that classic: romantic, mysterious, luxurious, and entrancing. Throw in a picturesque moonlit lake view with a green light across the water, and I’m sold.

Casting: As Griff, the pesky reporter writing a book about the Arlington family tragedy, I can’t think of anyone more dogged yet charming than Grant Gustin. He also suffers quite prettily, too, and that baby face doesn’t hurt. As Pierce, the stone-cold lawyer and Arlington family bulldog, Alexander Skarsgaard’s Scandinavian chill and grace would seduce pretty much everyone watching. Still, even though the character in the book is Caucasian, I like to practice color-blind casting, and think Jesse Williams or Mike Coulter would also be great—and super hot!

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

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Victorian London. A cursed lord with a booby-trapped mansion and a merciless sorcerer out to exploit the very blood coursing through his veins. A secret organization of magic police who hunt down anyone who abuses their powers. A book crammed with more imagination, thrilling events, sexual smoulder, and cataclysmic climaxes than a reader deserves… Not to mention stripping. Both the kind you think and… not. The stuff of fantasies, both sexual and adventurous. The stuff of nightmares, but, you know, the fun kind that go bump in the night. This is the real Harry Potter for grownups.

Casting: The obvious choice for Lord Crane based on physical description alone is Lawrence Fox, but I find he has a sleepy quality that doesn’t suit Lucian. Someone who has the strength, the stillness, the wryness, and the imperiousness required is Richard Armitage. He doesn’t look exactly right, but that’s an easy fix. For Stephen Day, the tiny ginger with the adamantium sense of morality and the fearsome powers, I would look no further than the lovely Luke Treadaway. Although…. something about James McAvoy speaks to me as well. I think he would nail Stephen’s weariness and intractability.

Driftwood by Harper Fox

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When comes to the fantastic Ms. Fox, there isn’t a book in her cannon that isn’t outrageously cinematic. This author paints on a epic canvas, and her settings are often secondary characters in her books. Any one of them would make a riveting film, but Driftwood has touchstones and elements that I still remember vividly some three years after reading it. The statue shaped like a wave. The many rescues/dangerous encounters at sea. The protagonists’ military backgrounds and personal tragedies. Meet cutes at standing stones. And, of course, the decaying lighthouse where the MC lives, which at one point topples over the side of a cliff. The dangerous beauty of Cornwall, where it is set. There is so much meat here; it would be a cinematic feast.

Casting: Ever since I read the book, I have a theory that a crude version of its genesis went a little something like this: Benedict Cumberbatch shags Michael Fassbender. Now, this doesn’t do anything like justice to Ms. Fox’s subtle character shadings and riveting storyline, and it could be me imposing my own obsessions on the books, but, well. That’s the movie I see in my head. Cumby would be the doctor, Tom, of course, and Fassy the helicopter pilot, Flynn.

Captive Prince Volumes I and II by C.S. Pacat

 

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Two rival countries, both alike in… well, deceptions, double-crosses, overthrows, assassinations, warmongering, and manipulations. Romeo & Romeo, this ain’t. The captive prince of the title is forced into slavery after his father’s murder by his bastard brother. He’s sent to their most vicious enemy, a kingdom with a maniacal regent and a ruthless king-to-be, who is first in line for the throne because the slave-prince killed the older brother he worshipped in order to win a war. The political machinations alone make the Game of Thrones look like a round of Scrabble, and the enemies to lovers saga is one of the most gripping and infuriating I’ve ever read. Did I mention the kidnappings, wild hunts, sneaking into enemy territory at night, stormings of castles, and breath-stopping escape attempts? Possibly the best love scene I’ve ever read? One of the most complicated and inscrutable characters in all of creation? Forget a movie—this book needs its own 10-part HBO series.

Casting: Jason Momoa would be interesting for Damen. For Laurent, I can’t think of anyone better than Freddie Fox. If you’ve seen Cucumber, the Russell T. Davies series, you’ll understand.

Provoked by Joanna Chambers

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Righteous young lawyer David Lauriston is eager to make his mark on the legal profession in 1822 Scotland, but also to help people and serve the common good. He is tormented by his sexuality and longs for the one that got away, a boyhood love he was forced apart from years before. Enter Lord Murdo Balfour, tall, dark, and unapologetic about his need for other men. Of course, it helps to have the bank account and the social connections that can pay for discretion. Part legal thriller and part opposites-attract romance, all set against a rarely seen historical backdrop—not to mention an inordinate amount of men in kilts—this book is begging to be made into a film. Though book three, set at Murdo’s highland estate, would be the most picturesque.

Casting: As ambitious but morally conflicted David, the Australian actor Sam Reid, so good in a similar part in last year’s Belle. As Murdo… I’m conflicted. So many of the actors I think would be amazing in the role are too old now to play it—Matthew Macfadyen, Viggo Mortensen, Manu Bennett. But then I remembered that Henry Cavill—before he chose to go the leading man route—has the height, the range, the manliness, and the sense of mischievous superiority, as evidenced by his work on The Tudors. BBC Films, make this happen!

Over to you, gentle readers. What M/M romance would make your list must-see films? Who would you cast and why? Feel free to use and abuse the comments as your very own casting couch.

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Five Things I’m Loving Right Now

This post is an act of thievery. I fully confess the crime. One of the things I look forward to seeing on my reader the most is one of Josh Lanyon’s occasional “Five Things I Love/Am Grateful For” posts (read the latest here), because I am all about sharing the love. I love that he shares his loves, and I love to share my loves. So get ready! (And apologies to Josh for the pick-pocketing.)

I am, to put it mildly, an enthusiastic person when I latch on to something great. I tell everyone I know about it (my friends can attest to this; I usually tell them at least five times each). I shout it from the rooftops. When I’m enamored by a person, place, or thing, I am like a cheerleader punch-drunk on pep and a gallon of Red Bull.

But.

These infatuations of mine usually have a shelf life. Exclusivity + frequency – availability / distraction X work overload, or something. This is not to say that I stop loving these things–far from it–but that my enthusiasm powers down enough to let something else shove a spoke into the hamster wheel that is my brain. All this to say that, every so often on this blog, I’ll write a post about some things that I love. But I’m giving it a little twist so that the lovely Mr. Lanyon doesn’t sue (please don’t, I’m a writer. I literally have some sunflower seeds and a 15-year-old TV to my name), in that these are five things I’m loving right now. As in, if you see me this time next week, I’ll still like them. But I (probably) won’t go full-on Tracy Flick on your ass.

So, without further ado, here are Five Things I’m Loving Right Now:

1. It seems fitting to get the party started with the author who inspired it all. One of the first M/M anthologies I ever read was His For The Holidays, because I am a sucker for holiday-themed romance at Christmas time. I am normally one of the biggest bah-humbugers of all time, so the fact that I love nothing more during my few late-December days off than to cozy up with a cuppa and a smutty Christmas tale confounds me. But it’s truly one of my great loves of the season. I quickly hunted down Men Under the Mistletoe for the same reason. But the past few Christmases, there haven’t been such anthologies–or maybe just not of that caliber.

This year, Santa has been especially nice because this Sunday, the anthology Comfort and Joy is being released. It features the estimable Mr. Lanyon, as well as my faves Harper Fox, Joanna Chambers, and L.B. Gregg. Four presents for the price of one! If I read one a week, it’ll be like a literary advent calendar. But who am I kidding? I’m waiting for my Boxing Day mug of chai.

2. The Flash/Arrow crossover episodes, “Flash Vs. Arrow” and “The Brave and the Bold”.

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Best crossover in TV history. Exciting, angsty, and funny as hell, featuring hot guys in tight leather, science-girl power, scintillating sidekicks, formidable foes, and some touching, thrilling writing. If you’re not watching these shows, binge from the start!

3. London theater on demand. I thought it was a dream come true when I could go to my local cinema and see productions by the National Theatre live, like the incredible version of Frankenstein Danny Boyle directed, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. Now there’s a web site that has a library of older productions you, like me, might have missed because… Oh, you live thousands of miles away and barely get a vacation every two years, if you’re lucky. Well, lady fortune has whammied you today, my theater-loving friends, because you can now watch “the best of British theater” in your jammies! Just subscribe to Digital Theatre, and let the streaming begin! It does cost a wee little something… but a lot less than a trip to London and a ticket, even from the half-price booth in Leicester Square.

4. This Medieval Princess Bathrobe from Think Geek. Because don’t we all want to pretend we’re Galadriel every once in a while?

5. I won’t often use this space to self-promote or talk about personal things, since it’s meant to be an exercise in fun, but I have just put out a new book and, as a consequence, I’ve had to confront some experiences that I’d been dreading for months. Namely, the reaction of my friends and family when they discovered I write M/M, and exactly what that means. I think most bookish introvert types like myself can relate to the fact that few of our online adventures spill into the real world, especially if you have a family that has very rigid/conservative ideas about things (I don’t mean that in the political sense). The point of it all is that it’s your private play time (though of course a lot of good can be done in the process) and people in your real life don’t know that much, if anything, about it. This was the case for me.

But when you publish a book, well, how can you keep that a secret? Especially from the people who love you. When I decided to focus on writing M/M, I knew that one day I would no longer be able to hide behind my computer. That actual living, breathing people I talk to on a regular basis would learn about this side-profession of mine, and I’d have to talk to them about it in the flesh. I should mention that I am not in any way ashamed of what I do. But I confess I was a bit nervous about how this all would play out.

Turns out, I didn’t need to be. My uncle joked that he wanted me to start writing M/F/F and my sister read some of the sex scenes to her friend over the phone. When I tried to hedge by saying that I know it’s weird, my sister corrected me and said it’s not. My mom read the book in two days and loved it. Something that had me quaking in my boots turned out to be no trouble at all, and I am so very grateful for that.

Hopefully you can find something in there to inspire you!

Selina 😀

Toronto Trip: TIFF ’14

Late into my aestas horribilis, my lovely friend Mal Peters texted me to suggest I visit her in Toronto the week of the film festival, since she had inadvertently booked some time off. Being a diehard cinephile and in dire need of a holiday, my immediate answer was “Yes!” After creating an elaborate Venn diagram charting where the films I wanted to see and the dates I would be in town intersected, I decided on four films (I heart making schedules): That One With a Lot of Heat Out of Sundance; That One With the Danish Guy I Love; That One With the Other Danish Guy I Love; and That One With Sherlock as Alan Turing (AKA Maybe I’ll Get To See the Batch Kiss a Dude).

I am happy to report that there was not a stinker in the bunch. All of them are independent films with various levels of promotional support. Two of them are foreign-language films that will likely get a North American and European release, but still could benefit from a little extra push, so here are my capsule reviews.

WHIPLASH

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This is the film I was least excited to see. I had heard great things coming out of Sundance about it, but I really just picked it because it was the best-looking film that fit into an empty slot in our schedule.

It was the best film I saw. It. Is. Amazing. I am not overselling it. It’s about a jazz drummer (Miles Teller) at a music school who gets called up by the most renowned teacher at the school—perhaps in the world—to be a part of his class/ensemble (played by J.K. Simmons). The teacher is both inspiring and abusive. The driven student becomes more so under such a harrowing yet challenging influence. When these two forces collide, it is a clash of the titans. If you think you know where this story is headed, you are wrong.

All of the music was written for the film. The cinematography and the editing use it to punctuate the film language. The director (Damien Chazelle) used to be a jazz drummer himself, though he says it’s only inspired by his experiences and those of his fellow musicians, it’s not autobiographical. He imbues his film with the percussive rhythm of the music he loves; it pulses and pops and crashes like an extended drum solo.

It’s also a captivating meditation on what exactly it takes to make great art. If no one is there to push you, then how far can you really go? Is talent enough to make someone great? But if someone pushes you too far, doesn’t that risk not only your artistic spirit, but your life? Your ability to achieve greatness? These are the questions the film asks, brilliantly. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a mic drop. Go see it.

FAR FROM MEN (LOIN DES HOMMES)

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A morality play about the human cost of war paid by both sides, the first film from Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Pictures stars the King of Men as a French school teacher living in the barren wilds of Algeria during its war with France. A former major in the Second World War who returned to the place of his birth in search of a more peaceful existence, he is forced by the French army to transport a dissident (Reda Kateb) to the nearest city for execution. Both men have a complicated history, with the country they call home and with the conflict its now enduring, and form a bond as they encounter various trials along their journey.

The stark Algerian landscape becomes a character itself, its rocky desert terrain almost impossible to cross. With nowhere to hide and even fewer options, the two men are forced to rely on each other. But even if they reach their destination, is there a way out for them? For Algeria? For France? When both sides have committed atrocities, when two divergent cultures clash, will there ever be a clear winner and a clear loser?

Far From Men is based on a short story by Franco-Algerian Albert Camus, and waves its philosophical colors with pride. I admired the way it allowed no easy answers, and never gave its characters an inch. It’s also liberally spiced with humor, a relief from the intensity of the life-or-death situations it depicts. It’s extremely well acted and made, but it was missing a little something for me. I should have been engrossed, transported, devastated. Instead, I was intrigued. It’s a beautiful intellectual exercise with a strong message, but I personally felt it lacked power. But worth seeing all the same.

A SECOND CHANCE

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Danish director Susanne Bier specializes in ethical dilemmas played out on the domestic front. Her latest film features a bravura performance by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (that’s Jaime Lannister to my fellow geeks) as a police detective who, in a moment of weakness, makes a questionable decision that quickly and vertiginously spirals out of control.

Warning: Personally, I think this magnificent movie is best enjoyed spoiler-free, so I would skip the next paragraphs if I were you, even though I won’t be getting into the film’s various twists and turns.

It could be the subject of a Lifetime movie: a couple suffers the loss of a child, so the cop father steals a baby from a junkie couple who neglect their own. But it is played so realistically, so emotionally, so compassionately that not a moment rings false. It is a shame that foreign-language performances don’t get nominated for Oscars, because NCW should be on the nominees list this year. His tender, devastating work here will cut you to the quick.

This is an adult movie of a kind that they don’t make anymore. Except, apparently, in Denmark.

THE IMITATION GAME

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As much as I enjoyed the heck out of this film—there’s something to be said for seeing a film with a festival audience in a theater as large as the Princess of Wales—I was surprised that it won the audience award. It was a lot of fun, a moving story told expertly, but I think the, er, Cumber Collective may have helped it along a smidge.

I am not damning with faint praise when I say it’s the kind of film I like to categorize as Elevated Masterpiece Theatre. To give context, I adore Masterpiece Theatre. That said, they’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a compelling and relatively unknown story acted and directed by artists at the top of their game. Benedict Cumberbatch gives his all as Alan Turing, the genius who built the machine that cracked Enigma and helped win the war, also one of the grandfathers of modern computers.

I read one review that criticized his performance for not being far enough away from Sherlock, and while I don’t disagree, it is still a beautiful, affecting performance. My rule of thumb for judging performances is this: could another actor have done the part better? No, which excuses the typecasting. The same review goes on to praise Keira Knightly for yet another variation on the brainy, spunky chick she almost always plays. A similar charge could levelled at Charles Dance, who seems to have been cast as Tywin Lannister the WWII General. Just goes to show you how intimidating in his own right Cumberbatch is that his foil had to be one of the most skilled and ruthless players of the Game of Thrones.

The truth is, everyone in the ensemble is great. The film rises above its prestige Oscar-bait bio-pic status, but it doesn’t overleap it. Still, it’s a diverting night out at the cinema: a little drama, a little heartbreak, some witty banter, some scandalous cruelties. If I look a little too closely, I see a film trying much too hard to eek a traditional boy-meets-girl-under-harrowing-circumstances narrative out of a persecuted gay man’s story. What happened to Turing is horrifying. In remembering him, best not to forget that.

One of the fringe benefits of going to a popular festival like Toronto—along with having one of your dearest friends put you up for the week—is having the actors and directors do Q&As after the screenings. They smartly schedule the secondary screenings that the public can actually get tickets to the morning or day after the gala premieres, so that the stars are still in town and can attend. I was lucky enough that the filmmaking teams to three out of the four films I saw took time out of their busy promotional schedules to come and speak to the real fans—the paying audience. The only cast that didn’t? The Imitation Game. Bad form, chaps.

Coming later this week… a brief culinary tour of Toronto, with pics! Stay tuned!

-Selina